The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain in the 1700s, when developments in manufacturing transformed everything. Machines replaced practices previously handmade and production numbers soared. Both the average household income and the population numbers soared.

1 inch scale freelance model of a trapezium connecting rod steam engine driving a central open crank

1 inch scale freelance model of a trapezium connecting rod steam engine driving a central open crank

This revolution greatly increased the standard of living, mainly in the middle and upper classes. Overcrowding became a problem, as the factories filled their ever increasing demand for workers. Shortage of housing led to disease. The numbers of unskilled craftsmen rose which meant that job security decreased. These conditions started to improve once labour reforms emerged, and workers gained the right to form trade unions.

Due to the great productivity, prices for goods dropped, leading to the Long Depression in 1873, running until 1879 or 1896. This caused unemployment within the second industrial revolution, and more upheavals, as machines started to replace workers. During this time, a lot of factories and ships became obsolete with the new technologies. Sanitation and public health improved dramatically with the implementation of sewer systems and new laws requiring filtered water supplies, avoiding countless cases of disease and death.

Textile production

Before the factories, workers produced textiles in their homes and on their own schedules. Merchants dropped off the raw materials and picked up the finished products. Irregular and unpredictable schedules led to inefficient production.

vintage singer sewing machine

vintage singer sewing machine

Once innovative machinery came into textile production – such as the water frame and the spinning jenny, productivity soared. Over 20,000 spinning jennies were in use across Britain in 1778. The water frame ran on water power, and produced stronger and harder yarn than the spinning jenny. These machines produced spools of threat much, much faster than any worker could have achieved by hand.

A significant number of children worked long hours alongside adults, often given dangerous and unpleasant jobs, especially where adults were too large, such as in the mines.

In 1779 Samuel Crompton invented the spinning mule, a hybrid of the spinning jenny and the water frame. The invention produced finer thread than hand spun at a lower cost. More and more factories sprang up, powered by water-mills if location allowed.

Allchin steam traction engine 'Royal Chester

Allchin steam traction engine ‘Royal Chester’

The Second Industrial Revolution – 1870 Onwards

Steam power transformed factories, machinery and later in transport in railways, boats and ships and road vehicles. Originally used to pump water from mines, Thomas Savery invented “The Miner’s Friend”, the first industrial use of steam power, wasn’t a success. Prone to boiler explosions and designed with a pumping height limit, the machine had dangerous flaws.

In 1712, Thomas Newcomen introduced the first steam power plant, though disputes over who invented it produced a joint patent with Thomas Savery, as the latter’s patent covered the machine.

Steam power didn’t replace water power until after the first Industrial Revolution. Steam power allowed greater flexibility in factory location, as they no longer had to rely on water power. Water power could also be unpredictable, as extreme changes of weather, such as freezing, flooding or drought spells meant no power at all. Steam engines largely improved productivity and technology.

built working model live steam locomotive 2 12 gauge

built working model live steam locomotive 2 12 gauge

Other Changes

New railroads expanded travel distance and therefore possibility in manufacturing, trading, and travel. Cheap fuel also meant more railways.

original Sentinel steam wagon engine brass trademark plate in the form of a knight

original Sentinel steam wagon engine brass trademark plate in the form of a knight

Iron and steel production became large scale during the period, and telegraphs were widely used. It was also the beginning of using petrol and electricity as sources of power. Vaclav Smil named the period “The Age of Synery”, and unlike the First Industrial Revolution, the innovations were largely in science and engineering.

Several innovations of producing and refining steel and iron came into production, such as the hot blast technique and the Bessemer process, the former still being used today. Railways were now made from steel, replacing iron as much more durable material. This meant that heavier trains could now be supported on the rails, and the length of the rails could be longer.

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